Having pared back bloated D.C. voter registration rolls by nearly 200,000 names last year, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has started to test the accuracy of the remaining 283,000.
The board announced yesterday the first of what is to be an annual mail canvass to verify voters' addresses and to remove the names of people who have moved without informing the board.
The canvass is an attempt to prevent the kind of chaos that marked District elections in past years because of inaccurate and duplicate registrations.
In the first mass mailing, a nonforwardable postcard is being sent to the 283,000 current registered voters. If the information on the card is correct, no action has to be taken by the voter or the board.
If the postal service returns the card, a second notice will go out that is to be forwarded to the person's new address, telling the voter their registration is being canceled. District voters who move are required to inform the board of their new address within 30 days to preserve their right to vote.
In past years, the voter rolls included a number of outdated names and addresses, which were not regularly culled. As a result, election-day disasters abounded, peaking in 1982 when 22,000 registered voters had to cast challenged ballots to vote.
The city started a massive revalidation process, which took about two years and almost $1 million to complete, according to the elections board.
In last fall's general elections, a person not listed on the official voter registration rolls could vote by presenting proof of his or her identity and address, but that was the last time that will be allowed, said election board spokesman Joe Baxter.
Names will be published in The Washington Post before they are taken off the registration rolls, the board said.
D.C. Board of Elections Chairman Edward W. Norton said yesterday that the annual canvass is needed to keep the rolls current and accurate and to send a message to voters that they must give the board written notice when they move to preserve their right to vote.
"Election integrity is dependent upon the accuracy of the voter resident addresses on the rolls, and the periodic removal of persons who are not registered where they reside becomes essential to protect the system from potential abuse," Norton said in a statement.
The board needs a voter's correct address to determine where the resident should vote and which ward races the person is eligible to vote in.
The number of persons on the rolls also affects the petition process, Baxter pointed out. To get an initiative on the ballot, for example, 5 percent of registered voters must sign a petition.
Reducing the rolls from 400,000 names to 283,000 means that only about 14,000 signatures would be needed rather than 20,000, he said.
Emmett H. Fremaux Jr., executive director of the elections board, said he did not expect to find many changes in the list after the two mailings.